But he was to be brought rudely down to facts again. He was beginning to forget that England was about him and stirring in her agony; and he was reminded of it with some force in the winter after his profession.
* * * * *
He was going out to the gate-house one day on an errand from the junior-master when he became aware of an unusual stir in the court. There were a couple of palfreys there, and half-a-dozen mules behind, whilst three or four strange monks with a servant or two stood at their bridles.
Chris stopped to consider, for he had no business with guests; and as he hesitated the door of the guest-house opened, and two prelates came out with Dom Anthony behind them—tall, stately men in monks’ habits with furred cloaks and crosses. Chris slipped back at once into the cloister from which he had just come out, and watched them go past to the Prior’s lodging.
They appeared at Vespers that afternoon again, sitting in the first returned stalls near the Prior, and Chris recognised one of them as the great Abbot of Colchester. He looked at him now and again during Vespers with a reverential awe, for the Abbot was a great man, a spiritual peer of immense influence and reputation, and watched that fatherly face, his dignified bows and stately movements, and the great sapphire that shone on his hand as he turned the leaves of his illuminated book.
The two prelates were at supper, sitting on either side of the Prior on the dais; and afterwards the monks were called earlier than usual from recreation into the chapter-house.
The Prior made them a little speech saying that the Abbot had something to say to them, and then sat down; his troubled eyes ran over the faces of his subjects, and his fingers twitched and fidgetted on his knees.
The Abbot did not make them a long discourse; but told them briefly that there was trouble coming; he spoke in veiled terms of the Act of Supremacy, and the serious prayer that was needed; he said that a time of testing was close at hand, and that every man must scrutinise his own conscience and examine his motives; and that the unlearned had better follow the advice and example of their superiors.
It was all very vague and unsatisfactory; but Chris became aware of three things. First, that the world was very much alive and could not be dismissed by a pious aspiration or two; second, that the world was about to make some demand that would have to be seriously dealt with, and third, that there was nothing really to fear so long as their souls were clean and courageous. The Abbot was a melting speaker, full at once of a fatherly tenderness and vehemence, and as Chris looked at him he felt that indeed there was nothing to fear so long as monks had such representatives and protectors as these, and that the world had better look to itself for fear it should dash itself to ruin against such rocks of faith and holiness.